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Tikkun Editor Says Pro-Israel Lobby Is “Bad for the U.S., Bad for Israel, and Bad for the Jews”

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November-December 2007

The pro-Israel lobby — that constellation of groups including AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a host of others — is, argues Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun (Sept./Oct. 2007), “Bad for the U.S., bad for Israel, and bad for the Jews.”  
It is bad for the U.S., he writes, because “The Israel lobby identifies the best interests of the U.S. with those of the Israeli right-wing, and that right wing engages in activities against the Palestinian people in particular and against surrounding neighboring states, which have inflamed global public opinion not only against Israel but against the U.S.”  
It is bad for Israel, be states, because “The Israel lobby strengthens the hands of the most right-wing forces in Israel while reinforcing the view that the U.S. is going to back their intransigence and militarism and that, hence, they have a blank check to do whatever crazy and self-defeating scheme they come up with, including the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the dropping of cluster bombs on southern Lebanon, the refusal to give up land of Syria’s conquered in 1967, the holding of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Israeli prison camps, the use of torture, the violation of the rights of Israeli citizens who happen to be Arabs, and the refusal to acknowledge any responsibility for the Palestinian refugees. Israel will some day face a reckoning from Arab states and from the peoples of the world for the great arrogance and insensitivity of their government’s policies, and people will some day look back at the Israel lobby in the U.S. and, realize that it was destructive to Israel’s long-term survival interests.”  
Beyond all of this, in Lerner’s view, the lobby is bad for the Jews: “The most decisive reason the Israel lobby is bad for the Jews is that it strengthens idolatry in the Jewish world by reinforcing our tendencies to believe in power and domination rather than in love, compassion and open-heartedness ... It pains me deeply to see the Israel Lobby so successful in turning many of the Jews who are supposedly religious into worshipers of power; people who believe that the Will of God can be read by the outcome of military struggles like the 1967 Six Day War. This is straightforward idolatry — the worship of power and the betrayal of the God of Israel.”  
In addition, Lerner writes, the Israel Lobby “has put a straitjacket on public conversation about Israel. Reporters and even newspapers that reported the complicated and two-sided truth of the Israel/Palestinian struggles are quickly labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic ... This Jewish Political Correctness, like every other form of political correctness, will eventually backfire. The millions of people who have felt constrained and resentful that on this one topic they were not allowed to say what they thought will some day find their voice, and when they do, the legitimate support that Israel does deserve from the Western countries will quickly dissolve and irrational anger will be expressed at all Jews, not just those who supported Israeli policies.”  
In an interview with Tikkun, Rep. James Moran (D-VA) described AIPAC as “very well organized ... If you cross AIPAC, AIPAC is unforgiving and will destroy you politically ... Every member knows it’s the best-organized national lobbying force ... Most people that are involved in foreign policy especially look at a broad range of issues and consider a person’s entire voting record. AIPAC considers the voting record only as it applies to Israel.”  
Expressing concern about AIPAC’s promotion of the war in Iraq and its current support for action against Iran, Moran makes the point that AIPAC is unrepresentative of the constituency — American Jews — in whose name it purports to speak: “Jewish Americans ... are overwhelmingly opposed to the war. There is no ethnic group as opposed to the war as much as Jewish Americans. But, AIPAC is the most powerful lobby and has pushed the war from the beginning. I don’t think they represent the mainstream of American Jewish thinking at all, but because they are so well organized ... they have been able to exert power.”  
Rep. Moran came under sharp criticism for this interview, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) declared, “His remarks were factually inaccurate and recall an old canard that is not true, that the Jewish community controls the media and Congress.” Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Republican Chief Deputy Whip, said that Moran’s statement “is as senseless as it is bigoted.” He went on to compare Moran’s remarks to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Sixteen Jewish House Democrats, led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), called Moran’s remarks deeply offensive. In a letter to Moran, they said his comments “fit the anti-Semitic stereotypes some have used historically against Jews.”  
While critical of the tone of Moran’s remarks, and questioning his assertion of AIPAC‘s promotion of war with Iraq, columnist Doug Bloomfield, writing in Washington Jewish Week (Sept. 27, 2007) notes that, “He’s closer to the truth when he suggests the lobby is honing in on Iran. AIPAC and other major pro-Israel groups are not explicitly pushing the war option, but their depiction of Iran as the virtual reincarnation of the Nazis hardly bolsters the case for diplomacy. Moran said AIPAC ‘doesn’t represent the mainstream of the Jewish community,’ and the group has aligned itself with the Bush administration. He’s got a point there. The organization has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Bush administration ... Polls consistently show the Jewish community is more supportive of the peace process than AIPAC has been ... Mainstream Jewish organizations defer to AIPAC even when they disagree, because they fear being labeled soft on Israel. One other reason for its success is that the lobby sells fear; it is easier to rally people around fear of terrorism and Iranian nuclear weapons than around hope for peace. When it comes to raising money, nothing succeeds like tsuris (trouble).”  
Rabbi Lerner defends Rep. Moran’s characterization of AIPAC as only representing a small segment of the Jewish community. He believes that many American Jews who might agree with his viewpoint have been driven away from activism by Israel supporters who sometimes label them “self-hating Jews” for their criticism of Israel. Lerner said he didn’t disagree with anything in Moran’s interview and described him as “the most courageous congressman I know.”

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